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Waste & packaging

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Responsible Consumption and Production
  • Climate Action
  • Life Below Water
  • Partnership For The Goals
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  4. Our waste footprint

Our waste footprint

Measuring the waste and packaging impact of our products includes the recycling of our packaging and amount of leftover product in our packaging. This enables us to set ambitious targets, transparently report our performance and assess our progress towards our commitment to halve the waste associated with the disposal of our products by 2020.*

Unilever recycling aerosols

Why do we measure our waste footprint?

We measure our waste footprint to track our progress towards halving the waste associated with the disposal of our products by 2020. We use over 2 million tonnes of packaging each year, ranging from paper, board, metals such as aluminium, steel and glass, to plastics and mixed material laminates that we use in our sachets and pouches.

How do we calculate our waste footprint?

We measure our waste impact by quantifying packaging material that has not been reused, recycled or recovered, and the amount of product left over in primary packaging (for example, a mayonnaise bottle) after consumer use. This helps us to develop packaging material that is light yet sufficiently solid to protect the quality of our products. It also helps us design our packs so that as little product is left behind as possible when our consumers dispose of the packaging after use.

We’re also looking at packaging waste in the context of the local recycling infrastructure. If systems are in place to recycle packaging – and capture the value contained in the packaging that’s been thrown away - this reduces the overall environmental impact of the packaging waste. We track this as our aim is to choose packaging materials that are recycled or recovered in the countries where we sell our products.

We’ve been calculating our waste footprint since 2010, with data from a representative group of products in all our 12 sub-divisions: Beverages, Deodorants, Dressings, Hair Care, Household Care, Ice Cream, Laundry, Oral Care, Savoury, Skin Care, Skin Cleansing, and Spreads and Cooking. Our footprint calculation focuses on 14 key countries (Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, UK, and the US), which represent around 60-70% of our sales volume.

We calculate our waste impact annually, both at an absolute level and ‘per consumer use’, for example the waste impact of someone eating one serving of soup. These measurements enable us to see where we are making improvements and where we still have work to do, such as by further light-weighting our packs and using more recyclable materials.

Our 2017 waste footprint

Our absolute waste footprint is around 739 kilotonnes, which is equivalent to 0.6g waste per consumer use. In 2017, we reduced our waste impact per consumer use by 29% compared to 2010.* This reduction was achieved through a combination of: disposing of brands with packaging which was not widely recycled in the country of sale (e.g. Ragu glass jars in the US); improvements in the recycling and recovery of packaging materials; and packaging innovations which have reduced the weight of materials used.

Our analysis shows that primary packaging accounts for over 60% of our total waste footprint. Products within our Laundry, Hair Care and Beverages sub-divisions make the largest contribution to our waste footprint, accounting for more than one-third of our total waste footprint.

Our footprint graphic below shows the contribution of primary and secondary packaging - minus national recycling and recovery rates (specific to each of the 14 countries where we measure our footprint) - to our total waste footprint. We also account for product leftovers - the product left behind in the primary pack when a consumer discards it. Together, these make up the waste footprint related to the disposal of our products.

Graphic showing Unilever's waste footprint

Measured 1 July 2016 – 30 June 2017.

We also annually measure the reduction in the weight of our packaging, which is reported in Waste Targets & Performance. The waste generated by our manufacturing operations is measured as part of our eco-efficiency in manufacturing programme.

* Our environmental targets are expressed against a baseline of 2010 and on a 'per consumer use' basis. This means a single use, portion or serving of a product.

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